Blog | 14th Jun, 2015

Let’s capitalise on unity over riverbank fencing

Environmentalists and farmers are sometimes in opposing camps, but not when it comes to fencing off river banks.

The Victorian Farmers Federation recently suggested the Victorian Government should make greater use of the environmental levy on water bills to pay for riverbank restoration.

I’ve been calling for the same thing for years.

Even the Federal Government is on board.

Last month, The Weekly Times published an opinion piece by Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce announcing that fences farmers build will be 100 per cent tax deductible in the first year.

Why are such diverse parties all in support?

Because fencing out stock and revegetating riverbanks is good news for everyone.

It stops pollution getting into rivers, improves water quality and helps prevent erosion. It’s great for wildlife and brings benefits for farmers, too.

It’s also better for the livestock. Cattle and sheep are healthier with off-stream watering, stock management is improved and a recent study shows that increasing native vegetation adds value to properties.

Analysis carried out for the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning shows a positive cost benefit in transferring from grazing to riparian management.

Fencing stock off rivers and streams is common sense for many on the land.

More than two decades of Landcare, state government policies and community action have helped progress getting cows out of rivers and off river banks.

To date, there has not been enough funding to do the job either properly or on a large-enough scale to make a real difference.

It looks like that could be changing. The Andrews Government is writing a new action plan to fast-track the improvement of our river banks and the state Budget commitment of an extra $10 million this year to accelerate works is a welcome start.

Catchment management authorities have already identified priority areas for action and the plan provides the opportunity to speed up good land and water management.

How fast rivers can be fenced off will depend on how much money the Government decides to invest in coming years, and whether it develops progressive policy to ensure rivers, streams and creeks get the best possible management in the future.

But with wideranging support for the plan, the signs are promising.

Fences, normally used to separate different territories, seem to have had the opposite effect in this case — uniting instead of dividing.